The flu can spread quickly from sick staff and students to others near the school. Seasonal flu, also known as “the flu,” is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Staff and students are in frequent close contact, sharing the same spaces, supplies, and equipment for extended periods. As a result, there is an increased risk of spreading the flu and other illnesses among staff and students. The flu is mainly airborne (up to 6 feet ) through virus-laden droplets when a sick person coughs or sneezes. Less often, people can get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the virus on them, touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.
The best way to prevent the flu is to get the flu vaccine. The CDC recommends that people 6 months and older get an annual flu shot. Vaccination can reduce flu illness, doctor visits, absenteeism from work and school due to flu illness, and related hospitalizations. The CDC also recommends that people take everyday precautions (or personal NPIs) at all times to protect themselves and the community from flu and other respiratory illnesses.
Unlike seasonal flu, which occurs every year, influenza outbreaks do not happen often, but they can happen at any time. During the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, approximately 61 million people in the United States contracted the flu. Of those 61 million people, 32 percent were under the age of 17. Keeping school-age children and young adults healthy during a pandemic is a public health priority. Children may be more likely to catch the flu and remain contagious for longer. School-based flu outbreaks often lead to community-wide flu outbreaks, in which students spread the flu and other illnesses to each other, staff, and their families.
Don’t catch your school by surprise! Just as you prepare for the seasonal flu, you should prepare for a flu pandemic. Encourage staff and students to develop good health habits and develop flexible leave and attendance policies. Most schools have emergency action plans in place to deal with a range of crises. Make sure your plan includes NPIs and other flu prevention strategies.
A flu pandemic is not seasonal flu
A flu pandemic occurs when a new flu virus, different from the seasonal flu virus, emerges and spreads rapidly from person to person, causing illness around the world. Most people lack immunity to an outbreak of the flu virus. Outbreak flu can be more severe than seasonal flu and cause more deaths. Because this is a new virus, a vaccine may not be developed right away. Therefore, an outbreak of influenza may overwhelm the normal operations of educational institutions.
NPIs can help ease flu transmission
When a new flu virus emerges, it can take up to 6 months for the flu vaccine to become widely available. When there is no vaccine, NPIs are the best way to help slow the spread of influenza pandemics. They include individual, community, and environmental actions. These measures are most effective when used together. NPIs can also prevent other infectious diseases in schools. Educators play a key role in influenza outbreak prevention, and planning and implementing NPIs will help schools respond more effectively when actual emergencies occur. Contingency plans include measures to respond to a flu pandemic to safeguard the health of students, staff, and the community.
Personal NPIs are everyday preventive measures that can help prevent people from getting or spreading the flu. These include staying home when sick, covering your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, and washing your hands frequently with soap and water.
Community NPIs are strategies that organizations and community leaders can use to help limit in-person contact. These strategies include increasing the distance between students in classrooms, making attendance and sick leave policies more flexible, canceling large school events, and temporarily closing classes.
Environmental NPIs are surface cleaning measures that remove bacteria from frequently touched surfaces and objects.
Take Action to Mitigate the Spread of Influenza
The CDC has developed recommended measures to prevent the spread of influenza in educational settings. Promote and reinforce the practice of everyday preventive measures at all times. In the event of an influenza outbreak, plan and educate staff, students, and parents or guardians about additional community-based drug interventions recognized by public health officials.
Work closely with your local public health department before a flu outbreak to develop a flexible contingency plan, including actions to take during mild, moderate, severe, very severe, or extreme influenza. Be prepared to take actions appropriate to the severity of your local influenza outbreak, and the Before, During, and After sections of this guide provide suggested actions to help you plan and implement these recommendations.
- Everyone should practice good personal hygiene to help prevent the flu.
- Stay home when sick. Stay home for at least 24 hours after you no longer have a fever or symptoms without fever-reducing medicine.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and if soap and water are not available, use at least a 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces.
The school prepares accordingly
- Be prepared to keep teachers or students at home if anyone in their household is sick.
- Try to increase the distance between people in the school to at least 3 feet, the bigger the better.
- Modifications to postpone or cancel large school events.
- Temporary dismissal of students enrolled in child care institutions, K-12 schools, or institutions of higher education.
Before the Flu Pandemic: Be Prepared
do you know? Because children are more vulnerable, temporary school closures can be an important tool in the fight against influenza.
Influenza outbreaks can last for several months, and early in the outbreak, public health officials may recommend temporary school closures to reduce the spread of the flu among more students and staff. Pre-emptive school closures can help slow the spread of the disease in the community before a flu outbreak spreads in schools and communities.
In addition, the dismissal of students can be done selectively in certain schools, such as those schools that have a high medical risk of complications from the flu, or passively, such as in schools where many staff and students are already sick and unable to attend school, and the school routine Function cannot be guaranteed. Selective and passive school closures will not slow the spread of influenza outbreaks in surrounding communities.
Liaising with local public health departments to update and implement emergency action plans, including drug interventions, can help support continued learning and protect the health of staff and students, and the US Department of Education has developed a 6-step emergency action plan for schools.
Meet with the planning team to update the action plan
1. Evaluate all aspects of the school, such as personnel, systems, services, and other resources. Be prepared for the primary prevention strategies outlined in this guide. Develop or update plans based on the various situations schools may face during a flu pandemic.
2. Build relationships with key community partners and stakeholders. When building key relationships, including local public health departments, local hospitals, local businesses, and community leaders, work with them and coordinate broader planning efforts, clearly define the roles, responsibilities, and decision-making powers of each partner, for your Community reviews influenza plans and participates in community-wide emergency preparedness activities.
Propose key prevention strategies
1. Raise the practice of daily preventive measures at all times. Use reliable public health sources—such as health information and materials from your local public health department or the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to read more about everyday preventive measures and learn more about cleaning and disinfecting schools.
2. Provide schools with influenza prevention and control materials. Have supplies for staff and students such as soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, paper towels, trash cans, and disposable masks. Offers an additional supply plan during the flu season.
(Note: Please keep hand sanitizer out of the reach of children. When using hand sanitizer containing alcohol, attention should be paid to eye contamination, allergic skin reactions, alcohol poisoning, and flammability. Children can only be under the supervision of adults. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.)
3. Arrangements for the absence of faculty, staff, and students. Separate flexible flu attendance and sick leave policies for students and staff. Employees may need to stay home when sick, care for sick family members, or care for their children when schools are closed. Identify key job functions and positions, and plan for alternate coverage of cross-trained staff (similar to planning for vacation employees).
4. Develop a method for tracking flu-related faculty and student absences. Learn about common absenteeism at school. Determining the extent of absenteeism affects the continuity of learning. Some schools may need to consider temporary closures if staff and student absenteeism rise to damaging levels. During periods of flu, schools may be required to report flu-related absences to their local public health department. Disclosure of student health information may require written consent.
5. Identify the space that can be used to separate the patient (if possible). Arrange a place for sick staff and students who cannot leave campus immediately. If possible, designate a separate restroom nearby for the sick person. Make a daily cleaning plan.
6. Find ways to increase the distance between people to at least 3 feet or limit people’s face-to-face contact in schools. There are several ways to do this, including moving desks farther apart, creating spaces between students, dividing classes into smaller groups, holding outdoor classes, and canceling school-related group meetings and activities.
7. Develop a risk assessment and risk management process for the school. Work closely with local public health officials to develop contingency plans to assess and manage risk among staff and students if needed (eg, routine health screening for flu-like symptoms during outbreaks).
8. Evaluate the processes related to the planning of school activities. If an event needs to be postponed or canceled, such as a sports meeting or a special event, identify what action needs to be taken. Consider restricting access to campus for those non-essential visitors.
Develop a Plan B for schools if the outbreak worsens
1. If the school is temporarily closed, make a plan to keep students from going to school. Consider using online instruction, email, social media, local TV, radio, or the US Postal Service.
2. If schools are closed, meals, health, and social services may need to continue, and strategies to continue to provide essential services to students need to be developed.
3. Determine action steps for reopening schools. Decisions to reopen schools should be made in consultation with local public health officials.
Timely delivery of official flu information
1. Update emergency communications plans to distribute information in a timely and accurate manner. Identify everyone in your address book (for example, employees, students, suppliers, key community partners, and stakeholders) and establish a system for sharing information with them. Maintain up-to-date contact information for everyone in your address book. Identify platforms, such as hotlines, automated text messages, and websites, to help disseminate information to those on and off-campus.
2. Identify and address potential language, cultural, and disability barriers associated with disseminating influenza information to staff and students.
Support actions and plans
1. Share your plan with employees, students, key community partners, and stakeholders to provide training and educational materials for employees.
2. Test and update your plan every 12-18 months. Begin with discussion-based exercises, such as tabletop exercises, to identify and address gaps in the plan.
During an Influenza Pandemic: Taking Action
The flu is more dangerous to children than the common cold
It is important that during influenza outbreaks, emergency operations planning teams meet regularly to accurately assess, manage and communicate possible risks. Influenza is very dangerous for school-age children. It causes more hospitalizations in children than any other vaccine-preventable disease. Taking early action to slow the spread of the flu will help keep staff and students healthy and help students continue learning.
Execute emergency operations and communications plans
1. Pay attention to the local flu situation. Get the latest information on local influenza activity from public health officials. Be aware of temporary school closures in your area as these may affect your staff. Early in a flu pandemic, local public health officials may recommend Temporary school closures will also help slow the spread of flu outbreaks.
2. Implement NPIs to protect your employees and students. Meet with your emergency coordinator or planning team to discuss initiating NPIs actions, such as increasing distance between people or canceling school events. Again, when launching NPIs for flu outbreaks, work closely with your local public health department to discuss how these actions will affect your school.
3. Track employee and student absenteeism related to flu symptoms. Work with local public health officials to determine when to begin tracking and reporting flu outbreak-related absenteeism. If absenteeism is higher than normal for the school, they may ask you to notify them immediately.
4. Execute risk assessment and risk management plan. Work closely with local public health officials and health partners to conduct health risk assessments in schools, if assessed based on the severity of the flu outbreak.